If you are anything like me, you’ve held a cynical view of government in the past. Sure, laws get passed, but what say do we actually have? The HPBA Government Affairs Academy opened up my eyes to a lot—mainly that we have a voice and we generally choose not to use it. The time I spent in Washington DC with the HPBA was incredible and I believe that I came back significantly better than I was before.
The Government Affairs Academy (GAA) was 4 intense days in the DC heat with multiple trips to Capitol Hill. The goal being to bring 15 people from across the country together to learn about the way government works, and our industry’s involvement with it, so that we can be ready at the local level when needed. We had some prep work to do that involved reading about 90 pages worth of material (including the Constitution) and taking part in two webinars to gain a deep understanding of some of the issues on the Hill right now that affect our industry.
Once we got to DC it was off to the races; days started at 8am in the classroom and continued until 7pm. After that, most of the people in the class would go out for dinner together to digest what we learned that day and share best practices for business since we all brought a unique perspective to the table. We broke into groups and practiced intense training for dealing with hostile media—to the point where they put a camera in our faces and hit us with hardball questions for 10 minutes straight! They filmed the answers and we went around as a group helping each other learn and get better. We also had a town hall exercise where we went to the capitol and ran through a real life simulation on how to give statements when our industry is on the line—suffice to say, it was intense!
After three days of intense prep work, it was time for the real thing. HPBA has been working for a number of months now on urging Congress to extend NSPS for three years and we were given the task of meeting with members of Congress to make a final presentation to them before the bill gets marked up by the Senate in a couple of week (no pressure, right?). Grant Falco (NWHPBA Board Member) and myself met with the offices of 4 different Senators and 2 Representatives from Oregon and Washington. We were able to put our training into practice and talk in detail about the impact this bill has on our industry and why we need it to go through. It was a lot like the sales skills that I teach every day. We had to know our facts and we had to do a lot of listening; we also had to decide what information pieces were the most critical for the Senator to understand and what just confused things.
This experience was incredible.
Now, at this point, I’ll share a funny story. When we met with Senator Jeff Merkley in the morning, I was talking with one of his assistants, and found out that she lived about a mile away from me in Portland. She also told me about how she was a competitive fencer all through college… At one point, I made a joke about her keeping a saber in the office to protect the Senator, she laughed and said that security wouldn’t look too fondly at that. After we met with Senator Merkley we had a 30 minute with his staff to give them more details on our position towards the bill and guess who ran our meeting? That’s right, it was her! We had a great meeting, partially because of the rapport that we had built with her prior. She promised that she would relay our information to the Senator and thanked us for our time.
After we got through the rest of the day, Grant and I were in the airport getting ready to fly home when Senator Merkley walked right past me. Brimming with shameless audacity, I walked over to him, thanked him for the time that morning and asked again to consider supporting this bill. We talked for a few minutes about the points that we gave him that morning, shook hands and went our separate ways.
On the plane ride home, I kept thinking about the conversation and got an idea for a couple ways to follow up with the Senator. First, I decided to make a video outlining the issue at hand and get OHPBA members to speak up about how this issue affects them (props to Dan @ Smokey’s Stoves, Jessica @ Sunset Hearth & Home, Daniel at Orley’s and Eric @ Fireside Home Solutions! https://youtu.be/rKaxtlSjTxU). I filmed the video, made the edits needed to communicate the point and emailed it to her along with a thank you for all of the time that she spent with us. In addition, I went to the store, bought a Blue Lightsaber and mailed it to her via two day shipping. I made sure to put in a thank you note that said:
“I know this isn’t a USA Fencing certified saber, but hopefully this helps you keep the office safe. It even comes in Democratic Party Blue! In all serious, thank you so much for the time you spent with us last week. I really appreciate you and Senator Merkley supporting small businesses in Oregon by Cosponsoring Senate Bill 1857. Please let me know if I can ever help you in the future”
I don’t know if Senator Merkley will support this bill or not, but I know that they will not forget either that meeting or having a lightsaber shipped to a Senator’s office! In all reality, I treated them like the customers I help every day: I got to know them, I made some jokes, built trust, listened to understand their perspective, gave advice based on my expertise and called them to action to make a decision. Whether they decide in my favor or not isn’t up to me, what is on me is to do my due diligence to put them in a position “to buy”.
The work that HPBA does in regards to Government Affairs is incredible. There are people who are intentionally working to shut down our industry and the only reason we are still here is because of the hard work of the HPBA (which is really a thankless job btw). I learned more about Government than I ever thought possible, but more than anything, I learned that we have a voice. Every time you make a call to a Senator’s office, it makes a difference. Every time you write an email explaining how legislation affects you, it makes a difference. Every time that you show up to a town hall meeting and give a testimony, it makes a difference. We have a voice, we just choose not to use it.
Understanding Government Affairs is like having a crystal ball to see the future for your business. It gives you power to make decisions, it helps you prepare for what’s next and it empowers you to stand arm-in-arm with like-minded people in our industry for the common good. We owe a lot to the hard work of the HPBA (and OHPBA) so please, make sure to thank them. These days, we can be so consumed with tearing down competitors and hoarding what’s ours that we forget we are all in this together. In a high tide all the ships rise and my hope is that we all can stand for our industry to keep Oregon safe, clean and warm.